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Star Trek: Enterprise – Divergence (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

Given the general directions and interests of the fourth season, an episode like Divergence was inevitable.

Before Affliction and Divergence aired, the subject of “Klingon foreheads” was of great interest to a fandom that had noted the change in Klingon make-up between the broadcast of The Time Trap in November 1973 and the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in December 1979. In the years following the debut of the “forehead ridges” during the introductory sequence of The Motion Picture, the ridges became a source of curiousity and fascination for the fandom.

Things come to a forehead...

Things come to a forehead…

This curiousity was stoked by the franchise itself, most notably Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Perhaps owing to the show’s engagement with its franchise roots, the production team teased out the dilemma on a number of occasions. Three classic Klingons – Kor, Koloth and Kang – actually gained ridges between their appearances on the original Star Trek and their reappearance in Blood Oath. Encountering flat-headed Klingons during Trials and Tribble-ations, the crew pushed Worf for an explanation. “We do not discuss it with outsiders,” he responded.

Given that the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise has been so fixated upon issues of continuity and history, it seems like it was only a matter of time before one of the season’s multi-episode arcs would be devoted to explaining what had originally been a quirk of make-up design and had evolved into one of the franchise’s most fun (and admittedly trivial) riddles.

Food for thought...

Food for thought…

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Star Trek – The Deadly Years (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

“Accelerated ageing” is one of those classic science-fiction tropes. It’s one of those stock element that can be easily baked into an episode – like “evil duplicate” or “body theft.” It instantly adds drama, gives the actors something to do, and offers a chance for the make-up team to work on something that might be considered a bit more prestigious than aliens. It pops up on shows as diverse as Stargate SG-1 and The X-Files.

Within the Star Trek franchise, the trope shows up a couple of times. The Deadly Years is the most obvious example, but it also shows up during the first two years of Star Trek: The Next Generation, when that show was trying hardest to channel its direct predecessor. Too Short a Season inverted the trope to give us “accelerated de-ageing”, while Unnatural Selection played it entirely straight.

A wrinkle in the timeline...

A wrinkle in the timeline…

The Deadly Years is an episode that doesn’t quite work as a cohesive whole, although if its populated with some intriguing moving parts. There is a sense that the writing staff are trying to plug perceived gaps in the story by throwing everything they have into the mix. Some of these are good ideas, some of these are already so familiar that they feel like Star Trek clichés at what marks the halfway point of the original production run.

There are several elements here that would arguably support their own episodes. On top of the idea of the crew ageing rapidly, we get the wonderful dramatic hook of Spock trying to prove Kirk unfit for command – a plot point that never feels like it gets enough focus. However, we also get another “incompetent/crazy/stupid senior official” plot heaped on top to provide a suitably dramatic climax to the episode. And the Romulans return, albeit as generic heavies. The Deadly Years is a mixed bag at best.

"She's... well, you get the idea..."

“She’s… well, you get the idea…”

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Defector (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Defector is the script that earned Ronald D. Moore his place on the writing staff of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The writer had contributed the first script produced by Michael Piller, The Bonding, but it was his second pitch – improvised in the heat of the moment – that cemented Moore’s place with the franchise. He would stay on The Next Generation until it finished, before moving on to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and eventually Star Trek: Voyager, although he departed Voyager quite quickly.

Although Moore retains the credit on the finished episode, apparently – like so many third season scripts – the final draft of The Defector was a collaborative effort involving the whole writing staff. The episode, the first instalment of The Next Generation to air in the nineties, turned out surprisingly well. Indeed, The Defector is one of the strongest episodes of a very strong season.

A defective defector?

A defective defector?

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Star Trek: The Lost Era – Serpents Among the Ruins by David R. George III (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry. This is actually supplementary to the first season of the Next Generation, specifically the episode The Neutral Zone.

The first year of Star Trek: The Next Generation was a little rocky when it came to continuity. Skipping roughly a century on from the adventures of James T. Kirk, there were times when it seemed like the writers weren’t entirely sure what had happened during that gap. Early on, for example, it was suggested that the Klingons had joined the Federation, a decision reversed by the show’s third season. Even within the first year of the show, it seemed like the writers hadn’t quite cemented the wider Star Trek universe. In Angel One, we discover that the Romulans are threatening war, only to hear in The Neutral Zone that they’ve actually been absent from galactic affairs for quite some time.

Serpents Among the Ruins is an attempt to explain that absence established in 1988, and contextualise it against the eighteen years of Romulan stories that would follow from the early appearances in Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country through to the end of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and beyond.

st-serpentsamongtheruins

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Bonding (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Bonding is a pretty pivotal and momentous episode for Star Trek: The Next Generation. On one hand, it’s the first episode overseen by incoming executive producer Michael Piller. Piller would go on to become one of the most influential producers to work on Star Trek. Aside from steering The Next Generation towards success, he also created Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager, as well as overseeing the production of the first three Next Generation films.

However, The Bonding is also the first script written by Ronald D. Moore. Obviously, the version that made it to screen had been revised and tweaked by Melinda Snodgrass and Michael Piller, but The Bonding still feels like a Moore script. Ronald D. Moore would go on to be one of the more influential writers on The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. He also worked (very) briefly on Voyager, before departing and heading up his own reboot of Battlestar Galactica.

So The Bonding is the beginning of something new, an original direction for The Next Generation. Featuring a powerful and wonderful opening half, The Bonding suffers a bit from falling into conventional Star Trek tropes towards the end of the episode. However, it’s still a clever and powerful piece of television.

A bit of shadow...

A bit of shadowplay…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Manhunt (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

There’s a strange sense of fatigue as we come towards the end of the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, as if the effort of producing Q Who? has really just drained the show of any ambition or drive. To be fair, there are probably more banal motivations at play. The 1988 Writers’ Strike had taken the entire industry by surprise and has been credited with dropping television ratings by ten percent. It damaged the tail end of the first season, causing an improvised conclusion to We’ll Always Have Paris and is probably responsible for the mess that was The Neutral Zone.

The damage also bled into the second season. Even closing with a clip show, Shades of Grey, the second season wasn’t able to meet the average quota of twenty-six episodes per season. The season premiere, The Child, had to be hastily repurposed from an aborted script for Star Trek: Phase II. Even with the shortened orders, the second season of The Next Generation frequently saw episodes coming in behind schedule and above budget. This is one of the reasons that Rob Bowman, despite being responsible for two of the season’s strongest episodes (Elementary, Dear Data and Q Who?), did not become a regular director.

"It's a good time for nap time..."

“It’s a good time for nap time…”

Behind the scenes, the show seemed to be threatening to pull itself apart. Tracy Tormé and Maurice Hurley were frequently at loggerheads with one another over all manner of issues. Tormé was only allowed to register two pseudonyms with the Writers’ Guild of America, he used both on the second season of The Next Generation, protesting over modifications made to his script. It’s no wonder that the writers’ room pretty much exploded at the end of the season, with both Tormé and Hurley departing. When Michael Piller was put in charge on the third season, he had to pretty much start from scratch.

All of which explains why the tail end of the second season seems so lifeless and limp. The Emissary is really the only second season script with any life in it once the show gets past Q Who? Most of the rest of the season seems to trying to limp across the finish line. Still, even with all of that in mind, Manhunt feels a little mean-spirited. It’s an episode designed to mock at Lwaxana Troi, to reduce a middle-aged woman going through a process explicitly compared to menopause to the butt of some particularly harsh joke. It’s hard to find that all that amusing.

Starlit dinner...

Starlit dinner…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Contagion (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

Contagion is a nice reminder that the average quality of Star Trek: The Next Generation is improving. While the stand-out episodes of the second season of The Next Generation tend to attract a lot of attention, the more solid episodes tend to get a bit lost in the discussion. Contagion doesn’t rank alongside Elementary, Dear Data, A Matter of Honour, The Measure of a Man or Q Who?, but it’s still demonstrating that we’ve reached a point where the show can churn out a pretty good episode without it feeling like a special occasion.

It’s a bit of a shame, then, that Contagion comes from two individuals outside the show’s writers’ room.

The Yamato rests in pieces...

The Yamato rests in pieces…

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